Friday Night Sports Hero: Molly Paxton and Kaden Ross

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Continuing to honor the Class of 2020 spring sport athletes, two local track athletes were looking to cement themselves in their schools' record books senior year: Mullen's Molly Paxton, and North Platte's Kaden Ross.

(L) Mullen's Molly Paxton broke the school's two mile record her junior year, and was one second off of the one mile record. (R) North Platte's Kaden Ross was nine inches off of the school's 38 year old triple jump record. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)

Molly Paxton comes from a family of distance runners.

"My dad was a really good distance runner, and my whole family was, so I always had the drive to be a good distance runner. But, it wasn't until junior high before I realized that I actually had a talent with it, and could use it to gain success," Paxton said.

Paxton showed her skills early on in her high school career, qualifying for the State meet for the two mile her freshman year, and finishing in 11th place. Paxton again qualified for the two mile her sophomore year, again finishing in 11th, but she qualified for the one mile as well, and finished in ninth in that event.

Junior year, Paxton qualified for the State cross country meet for the first time, finishing in eighth place. Her junior year track season was a special one, as she again qualified for State in the one and two mile events, finishing first in the two mile, and second in the one mile.

"I definitely didn't expect it to happen at all, I was ranked really well, but the year prior I was ranked really well too and I didn't show that success," Paxton said After the gun went off in the two mile, all I thought was I'm going to do my best to win this race, and I'm going to stick with this girl until I can't run anymore.

"I had really no idea what she was actually capable of doing when it came down to the State track meet," said Mullen track coach Jennifer Moore. "But, starting the two mile, you knew it was going to be a pretty good race, you could just see in her physical running form that she was running super confident."

Paxton beat the second-place finisher by ten seconds in the two mile race, and broke the Mullen record in the event. However, Paxton's mile time was just one second short of the school record. Her goal for her senior season was to break the mile record as well.

"I was one second off, so that record was obtainable, so I was trying to capture that too," Paxton said.

However, Paxton will not have the chance to break the record because of the season cancellation due to COVID-19.

"It's been really hard to cope with, just because like it all came so fast, and I had big goals," Paxton said. "I think it would have been easier if I would have gotten the chance to even start the season and start any of the spring events. It's just even harder, because I was forced to say goodbye before I could even say hello to my senior season."

Paxton finished in 13th place at the State cross country meet her senior year, but she will not be running in college, so she will not have one last season to compete.

"It's very disappointing, but there's nothing I can do to change it, so it'll just make me stronger in the end," Paxton said.

Moore said Paxton is hard-working, and always tried to make herself, and the people around her, better.

"She's a great person, she truly is. She is a very hard worker, she herself wants to excel, but she doesn't stop there. She does what she can do to make her teammates excel, whether it's somebody that's on her relay, somebody that's doing an individual event, a long jump, which Molly doesn't really know a whole lot about, but she's there to encourage them. She wants the best out of everybody, and it's amazing to see her be the encouraging person that she is," Moore said.

Kaden Ross started the triple jump in eighth grade. He was previously a high jumper, but interested in learning triple jump.

"I normally did high jump in the beginning, but I'd watch the triple jumpers and long jumpers over at practice, and I thought that looked fun. So, I decided to go over there, I wasn't very good at it, but coach was like, 'wow you did pretty good for your first meet,' so I started enjoying it more so I decided to do it in high school and then it kind of just took off from there," Ross said.

"When Kaden first started as a freshman, he had a lot of learning to do, had a lot of changes he knew he needed to make, but he was willing to make those changes," said North Platte jumps coach Lane Swedberg. "As soon as he made those changes, it became very obvious, because he was increasing and growing so much."

Ross improved a lot over his freshman year, adding four feet to his triple jump over the course of his season.

"After that, he was hooked, because every year he improved by at least a foot, maybe even more," Swedberg said.

Ross qualified for the State meet his sophomore and junior years, finishing 11th, and eighth place, respectively.

Ross' biggest goal for his senior season was to break the North Platte triple jump record of 45' 7", which was set back in 1982. Ross was just nine inches away from the record.

"Break the record was my first goal, at the first meet or two. After I did that, I was going to get back into preparing for State mode, getting back to the basics and stuff," Ross said. "After I had that out of the way, my eyes were on state."

Even though he will not get a chance to put himself in the North Platte record books, his career is not over, as he will head to Nebraska Wesleyan University next year to play football and jump for the Prairie Wolves.

"I think he's kind of seeing that, he's still got things to work towards, and he's still got opportunities at those goals. So, even though he didn't get to break the school record, I think it's still a mark that's in his mind that he'd love to accomplish as soon as next year, just to know that he can do it," Swedberg said.

"I'm just glad I have four more years, and hopefully I can go that distance and I can look back and know that I was able to do it. I don't need recognition for it, I just want to know for myself that I was able to do it," Ross said.

While he didn't put himself in the record books, Swedberg believes Ross left a mark on the North Platte program that people will not forget.

"This last year, Kaden really stepped up into a great leadership role. I had a lot of younger freshmen that came out to be jumpers this year, and I asked him if he would just take some time to talk to the underclassmen and just kind of share about his experience. He did such a great job of just stating that everything that we do in practice is for a reason, and he talked about his growth from his freshman to his senior year," Swedberg said. "So, just to have someone like that, that would step up to be a leader like he did, it was so great to have, and I know that moving forward, there will be good jumpers at North Platte for a long time just because we had someone like Kaden to lead by example and take those younger ones under his wing. I think he still has left a legacy behind, even though his name might not be on the record board, he's definitely in our minds one of the best jumpers North Platte has had."